And the Birds Rained Down is a thought-provoking, reflective story of aging, autonomy and choice. It shares the intimacy of friendship and the support necessary for living in the wilderness. The novel was originally written in French and then translated into English. It was a 2015 CBC Canada Reads Selection fitting the theme of Breaking Barriers.
This novel describes the lives of two elderly men who escaped the constraints of society by leaving their lives to inhabit cabins in the forest. They supported each other and the memory of their friend who had survived The Great Fires, checking in on each other daily. The men’s lives were forever changed with the arrival of a photographer looking to document the experience in The Great Fires.
The photographer strikes an unlikely friendship with the old men who live sparely in the forest supported by an unlikely man who delivers food and supplies in trade for maintaining his own “growth operation” among the trees. This man comes to know a relative who had lived for 60 years in an asylum and helps her escape and join this interesting mix of friends living in the forest.
These individuals are never far from the touch of death. She is noted to be nearby and following them. They have their own plans so that they can control their end of life experience.
“Death is an old friend. They talk about her causally. She has been on their heels for so long they can feel her presence lurking, waiting discreet during the day but sometimes intrusive at night. Their morning conversation is one way of keeping her at bay. Once they have said her name, she arrives, joins in their conversation, won’t relent, wanting the spotlight, and they snub her, making fun of her, at times insult her and send her off, and she, like a good dog, goes back to gnawing her bone in the corner. She’s in no rush.”
Reading this story seems timely when the health care system is debating the choice of physician assisted death. Advance care planning is promoted to help make your wishes known before death is upon us and these individuals had given a lot of thought to their own end of life plans. This story highlights what these men have given up and the choices they make to die on their own terms.
This book is a fairly quick read but it is thought-provoking and leaves the reader thinking about the richly developed characters once the story is finished. It helps one consider their own choices while contemplating the paths of these capable seniors.
And the Birds Rain Down is appealing with it’s quality, textured pages of Zephyr Antique Laid paper. This is reminiscent of the quality of Giller prize winning Fifteen Dogs which was also published by Coach Books.
The author describes the setting and characters in a way that the reader can “see” them in their natural surroundings. It highlights the ability to choose an end of life path without the constraints of healthcare and family focusing the decision making. With the development of death cafes and book clubs talking about death, And the Birds Rained Down would make a captivating discussion.